I’ll admit it. It wasn’t entirely coincidental that I arranged to visit my Nashville friends when it “happened” to be the CMA Fest weekend. I was on my best behaviour though and resigned myself to the fact I’d need to be a good guest and not spend every waking minute wandering off, scouting for country stars.
When we finally took a trip Downtown on the Friday, I played it cool and pretended to not know the full schedule, stage map & artists middle names. After all, these friends had grown up with country music all around them and couldn’t possibly understand what a big deal just being in town at the same time as so many CMA artists felt like for this Geordie lass.
The main stage had sold out but as it was an open air arena, I’d always planned to watch what I could from the nearby bridge. That all changed when an amazing stranger, the fairy godmother I never knew I had, spotted our curbed butts, peering through the railings and gave us all tickets. Free tickets.
Just like that my attempt to play it cool was over. Like a CMA Cinderella, I was in. The main show lineup on just that one night included Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Rascal Flatts, Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini. And now, I’d finally be able to experience the show in the way I’d always wanted. Once inside, you know it’s not just any old country music festival.
Everyone is in town.
Although you spend the four festival days seeing dozens upon dozens of artists, the greed still kicks in. You can’t help wondering who is pals with whom in this country hub. The main stage didn’t disappoint with cameos like surprise extra appearances from Trace Atkins and Thomas Rhett.
You feel part of something big.
Seeing artists outside of the UK felt strange at first. Hearing their heartfelt intros about how Nashville and its people were the best made me feel like the bitter ex, thinking “but you told the Brits you loved us at our C2C festival…’. I soon realised it was bigger than lip service though; they appreciate Nashville as the seed. It’s a city that nurtures and develops amazing startup acts until they are ready to be globally recognised. You could see how much it meant to Blake Shelton when he tried to explain how hard it was to come up with a set good enough to perform to the city which helped him take his baby steps so many years ago.
It was unapologetically country.
There was nothing more refreshing than watching a full lineup where acts didn’t have to try to be anything they’re not. Kelsea Ballerini stood out for me during Friday’s main stage show. At the risk of sounding like a granny, it was refreshing to see a young female (especially the only female artist on the night’s bill) fully clothed so we could enjoy her exceptional vocal performance without having our attention diverted elsewhere.
Nashville is home.
For the artists, they’re back home with friends and family. Although you want to spend every waking minute among the various stages, you do still need to make time to get BBQ sauce around your mouth. It turns out the stars do too! They are more than willing to jostle the crowds and find a seat in the popular bars after their performance. But if, like me, you find your self sat alongside a fresh-from-the-stage singer, try to be better behaved than I was and don’t help yourself to his fancy sushi.
There’s always more.
Just incase four packed days of all the top country artists at CMA Fest wasn’t quite enough to satisfy your country music needs for the weekend, the Grand Ole Opry and other Nashville treasures are open per usual. In the UK we were quite used to having to wait a good couple of months between gigs. But here Carrie Underwood, Drake White & Rascal Flatts were among many who also hopped over to the Opry to give the audiences a more personal performance away from the festivities.
So even if my fairy godmother never appears again, I’ll definitely be getting myself back to the CMA ball one day. If you’re going this year, you can find all the CMA Fest info, including new safety measures, here.